Considering the European hospitality tradition, it’s easy to assume that there’s a hospitality gene that runs in some people’s bloodlines. If you’re the son or daughter of a hotelier or restaurateur, there’s a good chance you will either join the family’s business, or stay in the industry and work for someone else.
“It’s a highly regarded profession, like that of banker, doctor or lawyer in this country,” said Giuseppe Lama, 53, general manager of Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa.
His family owned a 14-room inn above a street level restaurant that doubled as the town’s social center.
“The lobby was my living room, and I spent my youth with travelers and townspeople around. That’s how I grew up,” recalled the native of Faenza, in the Tuscan hills of Italy. “At the age of 5, I’d run around in the front yard playing soccer and then go in and help my mother with chores in the kitchen.”
While it sounds like the ideal training ground for a hotelier, the sheer numbers of people competing for the best jobs in the European hospitality industry create stagnation, he explained.
“There are millions who want that same spot, so those who get there never leave,” he explained.
With the passion of an Old World host, an educational background in hotel management, and the desire to ascend to the top, Lama opened the door to greater opportunity when he accepted an offer from Ritz-Carlton Hotels, starting out as director of operations at one of its properties in Cleveland in 1989.
According to his resume, which lists jobs of increasing responsibility, he made the right career choice. As a Ritz-Carlton executive, he crisscrossed the country working in hotels in Michigan, California and Massachusetts, and assisted with hotel openings in various cities, as well as Cancun, Mexico.
Between 1993, when he left Ritz-Carlton, and 1999, he worked for Westin Hotels and Resorts, serving as general manager at such properties as the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill.; and the Westin Michigan Avenue, Chicago; as well as holding the title of hotel manager of the Century Plaza Hotel & Tower in Los Angeles. From 1999 to 2003, when he became general manager of the Estancia, helping with its design and operational layout before it opened in 2004, he served as general manager of the Hotel del Coronado.
At this juncture in his career, Lama has come full circle. His aspirations, he says, are less on climbing the corporate ladder than on injecting European hospitality traditions in individualized hotels.
“Here at Estancia, I’m more like a mayor in my own little village than a general manager,” he said. “I strive to distinguish us as a true hybrid that is chic and casual at the same time, away from the mainstream, not just another marble and chandelier hotel.”
Job title and company name: General manager of the 210-room Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, which is managed by Los Angeles-based Destination Hotels and Resorts.
Education: Oxford Polytechnic, Oxford, England, with a degree in hotel management and administration. Degrees in hotel administration from Bermuda College, Bermuda, and in hotel techniques from Hotel College, Bellagio, Como, Italy.
Birthplace and date: Faenza, Italy, south of Bologna; Dec. 29, 1953.
Residence: Carmel Valley.
Family: Wife, Katherine, daughters, Sofia, 17, and Chiara, 15, and son, Jian Paolo, 13.
Essential philosophy: You have to invest in people’s emotional bank accounts. That means taking the opportunity to make them feel special by creating a memorable experience. You also have to create a nurturing work environment, because employees want to be successful.
The secret to success: Passion, energy and consistency.
Goals aiming for: I want to continue to develop my sense of creativity by being intimately involved in the development of hotel properties that will be different and stand out, not stereotyped.
Best career decision: Coming to the United States.
Toughest management task: Firing people. Sometimes you have to do it, but it’s tough.
I’ve been told I’m: Too driven. People occasionally say that.
The best thing about what I do is: That I get to be me.
Pet peeve: A lack of dedication on the part of some employees.
Most-respected competitor: The team at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. They run a high quality operation. They want it to stay that way, and they don’t compromise.
Greatest passions away from work: I race triathlons. I’m a runner, swimmer and biker.
If I had it to do all over I’d: Have come to the United States earlier.
The kind of books I like to read: Autobiographies and biographies.
Favorite status symbol: I bought myself a custom bike, a carbon fiber 16-pounder, designed by Aegis of New Hampshire.
Favorite vacation spot: The Italian coast. It’s all about food and wine and friendships.
If I could have any car in the world it would be: A Ferrari 430.